UNION, Maine — When herbalist Kathi Langelier was a girl growing up in the foothills of western Maine, she loved stories about wise women who lived in the forest and made magical potions to help people.
But she never dreamed then that her winding career and life path one day would lead her to follow in their footsteps. Langelier, 40, is the driving force behind her 5-year-old Herbal Revolution business, in which she said incorporates two decades of interest in crafting good things from the flowers, herbs and plants that grow in Maine.
“I’ve been an outdoor person all my life,” she said this week from her new farm in the Knox County town of Union. “As a kid, I was always playing in the forest. When I graduated from high school, I went on a Grateful Dead tour and ended up seeking out a different way of life. I tried college — it wasn’t for me. So instead, I went into the woods and lived in cabins with no running water or electricity. It was a self-sustaining lifestyle, and herbs were part of it.”
Langelier, a cheerful woman with a quick smile, spoke while she cuddled and fed a tiny, 10-day-old kitten, which she and her husband found and rescued after it tumbled away from its litter and out of their barn loft.
It’s apparent her nurturing streak is something else that has led her to herbal medicine, which she began studying in earnest in 1996, when she moved to Belfast and took a job at the Belfast Co-op. One of her co-workers gave her books written by Deb Soule of Avena Botanicals in Rockport and Rosemary Gladstar of Vermont, a pioneering herbalist, and Langelier was hooked.
“I just read and self-studied and made things in my cabins,” she said. “I made a lot of recipes. I’d get excited if my boyfriend got sick, and I’d make him things to try out, like healing salves and teas.”
Over the years, Langelier experimented with formulas for elixirs, tonics, teas and more, apprenticing on farms and working as a gardener at Avena Botanicals. That’s where she learned about the International Herbal Symposium at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and decided in 2009 to enter some products. She figured she’d come home with honest feedback from other herbalists, but she also won awards — two first place and one second place — for her concoctions.
“Right after that, I made the decision to start my business,” she said. “The dandelion is the mascot of my business, and ‘Eat Your Weeds’ is the slogan. Most people’s grandparents probably ate dandelions in their salads, and knew of the health benefits. Now people see a dandelion on their law and put up Roundup [weed killer] to get rid of it. One of the many missions of Herbal Revolution is to make that bridge. I want people to see the beauty in the natural world.”
While still small enough she doesn’t draw a paycheck, every year Herbal Revolution has had healthy growth, Langelier said. This year, she is grappling with challenges that include moving from Lincolnville to the new farm in Union and a federal lawsuit. She and two other herbalists are being sued by Shire City Herbals, a Massachusetts-based company that owns the trademark to the term “fire cider.” Langelier and the other two women being sued have said Gladstar is the one who originated the recipe and the term. Nevertheless, Langelier changed the name of her tonic — which sold 700 bottles last year — to “Fire Tonic No. 9.”
In it, apple cider vinegar, horseradish, onions and habanero peppers, burdock root, dandelion root, hyssop, ginger, tumeric, rosemary, thyme, lemons and raw Maine honey combine to form a warming tonic that has lots of uses, she said. It makes a spicy salad dressing, an added kick to a bloody mary and helps support respiratory and digestive systems. Despite the name change, Shire City has not dropped its case against Langelier, who is trying to take the lawsuit in stride and keep her focus on her creations and her business.
“I use plant materials, vegetables and mushrooms and create formulas to have an end result,” Langelier said. “You’re getting benefits, it’ll taste good and you can use it as a food.”